Delegates hear restructuring proposal, reports on ministries

Delegates attending the United Methodist Church’s top legislative body are deciding if they are ready to “connect the connection” to enable the denomination to better perform mission and ministry.

In video after video, the 998 delegates attending the United Methodist General Conference saw the worldwide church at work and became better acquainted with a “Living into the Future” report from the churchwide Council on Ministries.

Since forming in 1968, the United Methodist Church has conducted several studies on its structure and ways to improve its operation. During the last 36 years, the denomination has shaped and reshaped its general agencies for program and missional effectiveness.  

The 2000 General Conference voted down a proposal that would have changed dramatically the church’s structure. Instead, that assembly mandated that the General Council on Ministries “determine the most effective design for the work of the general agencies and ... provide enabling legislation to the 2004 General Conference.” The result of the council’s work is the Living into the Future report.

The “Living Into the Future” plan before the delegates proposes merging the work of the denomination’s program-coordinating and finance agencies into a “Connectional Table.” There, leaders from around the church would coordinate the work of most of the denomination’s general agencies and would oversee ministries budgeted at more than $500 million per quadrennium.

If approved, the proposal would bring the widespread denomination together. United Methodists have congregations and other ministries on four continents — Africa, Asia, Europe and North America (primarily the United States). All regions would be represented at the table, along with the Council of Bishops and officials from the churchwide agencies.

The document aims to fold the General Council on Finance and Administration, with a 41-member governing board, and the General Council on Ministries, governed by 78 members, into a Connectional Table as of Jan. 1, 2007. Ten other agencies, accountable to the General Council on Ministries, would retain their free-standing boards, with about 500 directors, but be accountable to and represented at the Connectional Table. The “table” would be amenable and accountable to the General Conference.

“This plan is about bringing mission and money to the same table,” said Darlene Amon, a delegate from the Virginia Annual Conference and one of the voices in the video describing the benefits of the “Living into the Future” proposal.

In the video, Amon and Jay Williams of the Western New York Annual Conference discuss the proposal with Bishop Joseph Yeakel at Barratt’s Chapel in Frederica, Del. The chapel was the site of a historic meeting in 1784 between Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury, key figures in early American Methodism.

Yeakel described the proposal in terms of “connecting the connection.” A rejection of the plan by General Conference would amount to the church choosing to “retain a disconnected structure,” he said. 

The delegates will vote on the document during a plenary session May 3-7.

The General Council on Ministries’ three-part report also provided delegates with information about special programs and recommendations coming before the assembly, including holistic strategies for ministry in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean over the next four years. The council is asking General Conference to approve $1.32 million in funding to enable the Board of Global Ministries to coordinate the plans.

The strategy, to be guided by the churchwide Board of Global Ministries, is “the opportunity to participate with God in doing a new thing,” said Jane Middleton, a delegate from the New York Annual Conference. “The holistic strategy provides a unified response to the crises in these areas of the world.”

Middleton said the United Methodist Church is called to respond to and with its brothers and sisters around the world because “to do less would be to shirk our responsibilities to make disciples of Jesus Christ.”

The council’s report also made the delegates aware of the relationships and partnerships among United Methodist churches, annual conference and general agencies around the world, and how they are at work in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

The third portion of the report examined the church’s program ministries and ethnic initiatives. In a video called “God’s Colors—Transforming the World,” the work of general agencies and commissions were highlighted in five themes — centering on Christian formation, calling forth covenant leadership, empowering the connection for ministry, encouraging theological and doctrinal discourse, and strengthening ecumenical and global relationships.

“United Methodists are required to move toward ministry that is shared by clergy and laity, to better hear the call of Christ, and to support one another in sharing the message of love and reconciliation,” said the video’s narrator.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer.

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